by joel chaffee
My hope was that Luis Accorsi, Cracked Latin’s charismatic lead-singer, would not descend from the stage and twirl me ’round. Fortunately he found a much lovelier specimen than myself for that honor. But all of us partaking of the band’s show at Kenny’s Castaways November 6 knew he would be dancing with someone.
That is the sound and spirit this band exudes. Their debut LP, The World Is Cracked Latin, begins with two piano notes before the enormous band begins grooving in an otherworldly haze. To say that it is Latin is obvious, but not enough. On a song like ‘Wicked She’s Wicked,’ the percussion alone is so dense it sounds like its own ensemble, from various continents. Masters of any form they choose, Accorsi and Lane Steinberg, the writers and arrangers for the group, stop a song and change its direction at will, without hiccups.
At Kenny’s Castaways this directional ability was a marvel. Packing ten musicians onto the stage (oddly flanked by the restrooms) was achievement enough; the performance topped even that. Opening with ‘Diggin’ Bonez,’ the sound was instantly Latin, until the next instant when the rock ‘n roll guitars clanged and the percussion — tribal and arena — left the body with limpness as an impossibility.
Cracked Latin followed ‘Bonez’ with ‘The Expatriate,’ which begins in anytown Espanola, but then adds a pop melody; and a harpsichord? A distorted electric guitar picking notes, winding around the song’s perimeter. The creepy, alluring harmonies singing the melody. Cracked Latin serve the hook.
I suppose the band’s theme song must be ‘We Are Cracked Latin,’ a song that changes form so often it puts Odelay to bed, on the way pausing to steal a second or so from ‘A Day In the Life.’ Elsewhere on the LP, ‘Xuffa’ aches out a mouth organ from some ancient Celtic myth and also turns into a foxtrot, briefly. The variety of influences on display is astounding, collage-making new.
Playing as part of the International Pop Overthrow series, the band’s set was necessarily short. Nearing the end they played what must be their best song, ‘Caracas Shakedown,’ a song so hooky “Welcome home, we’ll break your bones” sounds brotherly. Accorsi, a showman, bounded and leapt, danced and hollered, the band cruising behind him like it could keep that tempo any old day. “The Caracas shakedown / The Caracas breakdown / They hit you back, it’s a sneak attack.”
Capturing this sound on a recording is a different achievement entirely. So many sounds mixed, defined and precise, but also one together. I am reminded of the intricacy of the mess of Spiritualized’s Ladies and gentlemen….
Again and again, the LP surprises. ‘In Memory of a Departed Therapist’ goes from harpsichord to a J Mascis solo without estrangement. It’s psychedelic even in its kaleidoscope of sound, of genre. Listening to the LP on headphones, it sometimes feels as though several different albums are being played simultaneously in the same room, but it sounds good, coherent. The effect is often mesmerizing.
“You sit on the corner with your big fat ass / Out of my way with your big fat ass / Sit in the corner with your big fat ass.” This swanky street corner jibe is followed by heavenly harmonies, bass like a strong arm keeping this song intimidatingly dangerous, even as the guitar wants to float away in distorted reverie from Lou Reed’s basement.
Closing the Kenny’s Castaways set with ‘My Hallucination,’ the band hammered alternative rock riffs amidst tribal beats and horns. “We welcome you with open arms / ‘Cause that’s all we’ve got.” Cracked Latin, live and on record, are the atypical sort of band that make a sound so new you have to keep listening to even catch up. And, like those blessed seers, the sound is one of the party — in the club or on the couch. It is the party, it says, I am the party, it is the best party, no one gonna stop the party, don’t stop. Welcome home, we’ll break your bones.